Villa de Leyva gets all the tourists, but the nearby small town of Mongui barely sees any, despite being arguably prettier than its more famous neighbor. Mongui is a tiny town of cobbled streets, old colonial buildings and charming local people. It is also famous for producing some of the best quality footballs in the world! Mongui is perhaps one of the loveliest, most underrated little towns in Colombia.
Buenavista is a little coffee town in Quindio department, which is also home to Salento (one of the most popular backpacker destinations in Colombia). However, it sees a fraction of the visitors that Salento does, in spite of its stunning views (its name literally means great view), off-the-beaten-track vibe and great backpacker hostel. Nearby Pijao is also the best place in Colombia to take a coffee tour, departing from Buenavista.
This little town about four hours south of Medellin is one of the best places in Colombia to experience extreme sports, yet it remains extremely under-visited and unappreciated by many tourists, who favor the more popular San Gil. In Támesis you can go paragliding, rappelling, caving and hiking, or explore the region’s wealth of ancient Indigenous petroglyphs, all in the stunning climes of the Cartama Valley.
Nemocón Salt Mine
Zipaquira is home to the famous salt cathedral, but nearby Nemocon’s salt mines are arguably more beautiful, certainly cheaper to visit and attract far fewer tourists. If you happen to visit Bogotá in 2018, then consider a day trip to Nemocón in place of Zipaquira.
El Cocuy National Park
This stunning Andean national park of snowcapped peaks, glaciers and condors was closed for many years, and just reopened to visitors this year. You can’t stay overnight in the park, but you can trek on 50km of trails, and enjoy the clean, crisp mountain air, stunning panoramas and amazing wildlife. El Cocuy isn’t very well-known, but it’s truly gorgeous.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Tierradentro is one of the most fascinating pre-Columbian archaeological sites in South America, yet remains very much off-the-beaten-track for most tourists, and is very underrated compared to the much more popular San Agustin. However, the ancient tombs of Tierradentro are beautiful and unique and the surrounding countryside of Cauca department is equally gorgeous.
Guaviare province, on the frontier of the eastern plains and the Amazon rainforest, is only just taking its first steps in tourism, but there are so many amazing things to experience there that it’s sure to become a popular destination in years to come. For now, though, you can swim with pink river dolphins, take a dip in jungle waterfalls and rivers, see wild monkeys and marvel at ancient Indigenous rock paintings, with barely a tourist in sight!
Another little town near Medellin, Cocorná is one of the best places to go rafting in Colombia. The amazing rivers surrounding the town are perfect for white-water rafting and kayaking, and you can even go paragliding over a waterfall while you’re there! Cocorná is less than three hours from Medellin but is still a very niche destination and most people haven’t heard of it. One thing’s for sure: those who have been, can’t wait to go back.
San Andres island tends to get most of the tourists, and its smaller neighbor Providencia remains something of an underrated destination (though it’s much more beautiful according to most people) – Providencia’s crystal clear waters, amazing coral reefs, unique culture and amazing food make it perhaps the best Caribbean destination in Colombia.
The Llanos Orientales
Colombia’s wild Eastern Plains are one of the biggest regions of Colombia and easily one of the most underrated by both foreigners and Colombian tourists alike. With some of the best wildlife-watching in the entire country, a unique cowboy culture, the best sunsets in Colombia and excellent BBQ, the Llanos still barely make it into the guidebooks, but a visit there is an unforgettable Colombian travel highlight.
A lovely little island just off the coast of Cordoba department, Isla Fuerte is often overshadowed by the more well-known Caribbean islands nearer to Cartagena. However, with perfect Caribbean beaches, excellent scuba diving and a nice little network of hostels and eco-hotels, Isla Fuerte could definitely end up being a Caribbean highlight for anyone who takes the time to visit.
The Pacific Coast
Colombia’s Pacific coast sees a fraction of the tourists that the Caribbean does and, for most visitors to Colombia, it barely registers as a travel option at all. Admittedly, it’s harder to get there, but the rewards are commensurate with the challenge: it’s one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet, and from June to October it is one of the best places in South America to witness the incredible spectacle of migrating humpback whales. Throw in top surfing, sea turtles, wild jungle and unique culture, and the Pacific coast starts to look like one of Colombia’s best, most underrated destinations.